January 11th, 2010

Adding GPS points to ArcMap

One of the most satisfying activities when using a GIS is using your own data. Typically this is in the form of lat/long coordinates from a map or a GPS unit. The next step is to import the GPS data/coordinates into ArcGIS:

Open Microsoft Excel and using at least three columns name them ‘lat’, ‘long’, and something like ‘name’, ‘id’, or ‘comment’ or all three if required so that you can identify your points later and use the metadata for classification and other cartographic purposes.

Once you have added all your data points save your file as myGPSdata.xls. Make sure it is not saved as the new MS Office format with the extension .xlsx. It won’t work. Close the excel file after saving.

If you are using an earlier version of ArcGIS (9.1 or earlier) you must save the data as dbfIV format rather than .xls. This format is extremely sensitive about invalid characters and spaces!

In ArcMap, either open an existing map or create a new one. Go to ‘Tools’ in the menu bar, select ‘Add X,Y data…’. In the new window, in the first input box find your excel or dbfIV file and select it. The lat and long should automatically fill the X and Y fields. If not, try and select them manually using the drop-down boxes anyway. If nothing is visible then perhaps you have not closed the excel or dbfIV file or this is something wrong with your excel formatting.

Select the projection, geographic coordinate system (GCS), world, WGS 1984. Click OK for the windows and hopefully your data will show up correctly. Note that the data is still linked to the excel file and you should export it as a new data shapefile to give your new data full GIS functionality/ability.

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